Taking your football career abroad is always an eye-opening experience but not many players know that more than Netan Sansara. The 28-year-old defender from the West Midlands has learnt a lot about himself since first taking the gamble of a move overseas in 2011.
“When I left Walsall, I was in the wilderness about plotting my next move,” he says. “I had some offers from League 2 at the time and also from the Conference but I felt it was time to try something different and grow up a little and get out of my comfort zone.”
And he really did try something different. After making 27 appearances in League One for his local side Walsall, the defender drifted around different clubs, first joining Dundee before signing for AFC Telford and Corby Town. Eventually though, it would be the move further afield which would kick-start a nomadic career.
“I made the move to Cyprus in 2011, which I’m glad I did as it made me realise that whatever I wanted to do in life I would have to work hard for. England was a comfort zone, going abroad made me grow up and grow individually both personally and as a footballer.”
The defender, who was once called up to the England U18 side, joined second division side PAEEK, helping them to fourth place in the league as they just missed out on promotion to the top flight.
After just one season in Cyprus, Sansara was on the move again as he turned down a contract extension to join second-tier Danish side FC Vestsjælland. However, he found appearances very limited and returned closer to home the following season to play for Boston United.
Several years on though, a move back home is something that the former Walsall man would never consider doing now.
“I think that having made a career for myself abroad it has never crossed my mind to return to the UK. I usually go back every year to see my parents but other than that I much rather prefer to play abroad and enjoy my football.”
You may be wondering how much of a career Sansara has built abroad and the fair response would be that he has continued to establish himself in new countries. After that season with Boston, he hasn’t be back to play football in England since. He has spent three years in Norway, a year in Canada and is now playing in Sweden.
His three years with Fredrikstad in Norway’s second tier saw him blossom into the commanding defender he had always wanted to. Ahead of his second year with the club, he was named as captain and went on to make 29 league starts, his most for a season and it was a time when he really felt at home.
“Norway is my favourite country to live in,” he says. “The lifestyle, quality of life and the beautiful scenic parts of the country are amazing. Whether it’s winter or summer, there are always things to do and great ways to stay active which is the lifestyle I love.”
Sansara can be excused of being a little biased, his fiancé is Norwegian but his successful time on the pitch in Norway has probably slightly influenced his opinion of it too. Despite that, after three years, he was on the move again, this time joining FC Edmonton who played in America in the NASL.
After a season though, the pull of Scandinavia was too much for him to resist and he is now back playing closer to his adopted home with second-tier Swedish club Gefle but he doesn’t regret the move across the Atlantic.
“I love moving around and experiencing new life adventures. I count myself lucky to be able to have travelled so much due to my career.
“Settling is easy. I’m open minded about every country I visit and I love to embrace a new culture. I’m actually based in Norway now so that is where I want to settle down after my career.”
On the pitch in Sweden though, his side Gefle face a fight to avoid relegation with his side currently sitting second bottom after thirteen games. Despite that, Sansara is still enjoying his time at his new club.
“Right now at Gefle, I’m playing on the left side of a back three and really enjoying it. The modern style of three at the back really suits me and I feel brings out my best attributes as a player.”
It is just yet another style of play which the 28-year-old has had to become used to, not that he minds getting to understand new styles across the world.
“I think obviously the physicality in the English leagues is always tough, however it’s been a great experience to be able to have kind of gone full circle in terms of styles. I’ve been part of all styles of football and enjoyed every part it has helped shape me as a footballer.”
Looking to the future then, it would appear a return to his roots in the Midlands seems unlikely and with a Scandinavian wedding to come in the future, where does he see himself in the years to come?
“The future is always never planned,” he says. “I have always said to my family I will play until I don’t want to play anymore then I can enjoy family life. There has been a lot of sacrifices over the years.
“I’m also finishing a degree in sport management, I’ve always had an idea of what I wanna do after football. But I’m enjoying my football at the moment and enjoying my time in Sweden so long may it continue.”
So it seems fair to say Sansara has built a career abroad for himself and he would want the same for any other English footballers who find themselves in a crossroads in their career, just like he did himself all those years ago.
“Once they [young English footballers] make the move abroad it will open their eyes for the better and they will enjoy the experience. It’s a great way to further your career and enjoy football whilst learning both personally and about other cultures.
“I left England and ever since I did I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my footballing experience it has been simply amazing. I’d recommend it to all.”
There’s just one more matter to be discussed. Having come from an Indian background, indeed he has been nominated for several awards at the annual Asian Football Awards, it may be considered slightly surprising that someone of his experience hasn’t been given a chance on the international stage, especially when you consider India’s manager is Englishman Stephen Constantine.
“This question has been asked to me ever since I made my professional debut at 17. I’ve always wanted to play for India, I made it clear I would always be willing to.
“I get direct messages every day from supporters in India telling me they wish to see me in the national team. To be honest though, I don’t see it happening. It is just one big mess over there with all the rules and regulations, which is a real shame.”
“I have always said talk is cheap and actions speak louder than words when it comes to me and India national team situation. I wish them all the success in the world and I hope they can continue to grow as a football nation.”
Some strong words to end our chat but Netan Sansara is a man who has been strong throughout his football career and will no doubt remain just as strong through the remainder of it. He’s played in seven different countries and he’s not prepared to stop learning anytime soon.